A Quick Guide to Tomato Spotting, Picking, and Eating

“Tomayto, tomahto,” right? No, not really. With more than 10,000 known varieties—3,000 of which are actively cultivated—that tomayto, tomahto business can be fairly confusing. Have you’ve ever come face-to-face with a multitude of bins filled with slightly different reddish orbs and thought, “Wait, which one(s) do I pick? Are sauce tomatoes the same as salad ones?” Well, do we have the guide for you. To get a firm grasp of the mater landscape before you, start with these 10 commonly found varieties.

 

But first, let’s address some general guidelines for choosing tomatoes. Here, color is a solid indicator. For red tomato varieties, look for ones that are fully red from the bottom to the top. They should be plump and heavy, with unblemished, smooth skins. Ripe tomatoes should be firm–but not too firm, giving slightly to the touch. You should be able to imagine the juiciness inside with a very gentle squeeze. Once ripe, they should last 2 to 3 days left at room temperature. 

And now, the guide. From your more widely recognized supermarket varieties to specialty heirlooms, here are a few tomatoes to put in your basket.

 

Standard tomatoes

 

Roma Tomatoes 

Description: Oval-shaped, with thick flesh and few seeds.

Flavor: This isn’t an inherently juicy, succulent tomato. It’s best when cooked, which intensifies its flavor (see below).

Uses: Because of their dense flesh, low moisture content, and small amount of seeds, Romas are perfect for use in sauces and pastes, and are excellent roastedbroiled, or baked in a tart.

 

Beefsteak Tomatoes

Description: One of the largest varieties of tomatoes, these are usually red or pinkish, with lots of seeds. Available as either a hybrid or an heirloom, beefsteak’s color, flavor, and shape ranges quite a bit from tomato-to-tomato.

Flavor: Each specific variety of beefsteak has their own sugar to acid ratio making for slight deviations in flavor. That said,  you can almost always count on them being rich and juicy.

Uses: These are best for slicing and enjoying raw. They’re ideal in applications that let their juiciness shine, such as BLTs and salads

*Note: While in-season beefsteak tomatoes are a thing of summer beauty, the out-of-season ones are typically on the sad, mealy, watery side.

 

 

Cherry Tomatoes 

Description: These are petite tomatoes that can be round or plum-shaped. Cherry tomatoes include varieties like Super Sweet 100, Sugar Snack, and Sungold (see below).

Flavor: Slightly tangy and/or pleasantly sweet, depending on the type. 

Uses: Wonderful eaten lightly cooked or raw–try cherry tomatoes in salads, grilled, in a light and fresh pasta sauce, with fish, and eaten straight out of hand.

 

 

Grape Tomatoes

Description: Oblong and grape-shaped, these are closer in size to (but slightly smaller than) cherry tomatoes than to other larger varieties.

Flavor: Because of their thick skins, grape tomatoes are found year-round in the supermarket (they don’t damage as easy during shipping). They offer a mild sweetness, but are not sweet as cherry tomatoes.

Uses: As they do not have quite as big of a flavor personality as cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes are great roasted, in lasagna, and cooked and tossed with pasta.  

 

 

Kumato Tomatoes 

Description: They range from reddish-brown to purple in color and are round in shape.

Flavor: Sweet-tart and low in water content. Some find them to be notably sweet and with a more tomato-y scent than most standard tomatoes.

Uses: Treat them more or less like you would a cherry or grape tomato.

 

 

Vine-Ripened Tomatoes

Description: Globe-shaped, these are greenhouse grown and, as their name suggests, sold on the vine, stems intact.

Flavor: They’re said to have a more tomato-y scent, however, since they’re picked shipped when they’re still green (a.k.a. not ripe), they probably won’t taste as tomato-y as they smell.

Uses: Try roasting them, which will concentrate their flavor, like in this soup. Also, if you’re searching for a firmer tomato, as in the recipe for Risotto-Stuffed Tomatoes, this is it. 

 

 

Heirloom, specialty, and famer’s market tomatoes

 

Green Zebra

Description: An heirloom tomato with green flesh and skin, marked with darker green and yellow stripes. (Hint: They’re the green ones in the photo above). As it matures and ripens, its stripes become light green in color.

Flavor: More tart than most tomatoes. These can be slightly astringent, yet maintain a slight sweetness, and offer a near citrusy tang. 

Uses: Try it raw, in a salad, as a vibrant fresh tomato sauce, and in gazpacho.

 

 

Heirloom Tomato Salad with Herbs and Capers

Sungold

Description: A hybrid cherry tomato variety, Sungolds are round and a beautiful golden-orange hue. 

Flavor: Tart-sweet before it ripens, and very sweet once fully ripened.

Uses: These are best enjoyed raw. Use Sungolds in a salad or salsa cruda.

 

 

Garden Peach

Description: These are yellow, with a layer of fuzz on the outside. When ripe, Garden Peach tomatoes turn slightly pale pink. 

Flavor: Mildly sweet and delicate. 

Uses: Eat them raw in salads or straight out of hand.

 

 

Brandywine Tomatoes

Description: These range from pinkish-red to yellow in color and are irregular (and large) in shape. 

Flavor: This variety of Beefsteak tomato has a rich, intense tomato flavor. They’re meaty and typically less acidic.

Uses: Eat these raw in a tomato sandwich, panzanella, caprese salad, or this tomato salad with quick pickled shrimp.  

*Note: Other popular heirloom varieties of Beefsteak tomatoes worth checking out include Big Beef and Cherokee Purple.

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